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Shelter from the Storm

News Release

Written by:
Kathy Strong


La Quinta: January 4, 2012– There is a simple but important lesson to be learned from a recent collaboration of love and generosity between La Quinta's Old Town Artisan Studio and Shelter from the Storm.

“Your home is something you take with youwherever you go,” said William Johnston, an Old Town Artisan Studio artist and potter who travels to the emergency shelter for battered women and their children each Wednesday.

He leads a pottery-making class for the children there.

“We make clay homes, not houses. The children there have had to leave their homes and everything they knew and loved abruptly. Wherever they go, they can take this home they made with them.”

Johnston, who threw his first pot 40 years ago, got involved with the nonprofit studio after losing his job in banking.

“I knew I wanted to do what I really loved — working with art and with kids,” said Johnston, who joined the studio and began working with several local groups of special-needs children.

“And I spoke about wanting an art program at the shelter, but funding is hard to get.”

Lynn Moriarty, executive director of Shelter from the Storm, and Johnston put together a proposal for a once-a-week class for the shelter's children but needed the funding to get it started. Magic followed.

“I was meeting with a marvelously supportive woman and told her what I wanted to do with the clay program,” Moriarty said. “She wrote me a check.”

The donor of the clay-art program wishes to remain anonymous, Moriarty said.

“It's wonderful to know we have people in our community with such generosity of spirit,” she said. “In the first class, the children made turtles and made one for her. She was thrilled.”

The art program at Shelter from the Storm began in mid-September and has funding for about 48 weeks, but Johnston hopes to make the money last longer.

“I'm trying to squeeze the budget so that this can continue,” he said. “The class is a way of letting kids know that, even though their lives are in limbo, there is some kind of normalcy. ... It is a way to help them rebuild their lives.”

Moriarty said there's a therapeutic value in all kinds of art, and it “is so rewarding to see these children lose themselves in a project.”

“For a short while they have no fear,” she said. “Something like this is so meaningful, and it may be the only time in their lives they have this opportunity.”

Dave Ison, executive director of Old Town Artisan Studio, echoes Moriarty's sentiments.

“This art program ... is exactly what we want to do for the community,” Ison said. “We raise money as a nonprofit to give to other nonprofits. My goal as executive director is to find a way to engage special-needs children in art. I am really pleased with this program.”

According to Ison, Old Town Artisan Studio is working diligently on finding grant opportunities so that they can provide more of these types of programs for the entire Coachella Valley. “There is a real need since schools have had to cut funding to the arts.”

Besides Shelter from the Storm, the studio has outreach programs for the Boys & Girls Club of Coachella Valley; Girl Scout Troop 106, a Down syndrome group; DesertArc and Mourning Star.

“I don't have words to express what the kids have done for my life, how much they have enriched me,” Johnston said. “I hope they learn from me, but I have learned so much from them about being humble.

“My (late) dad was a minister and told me I needed to do something with my life to enrich others' lives. I think he must be smiling down on me.”

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